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one of the major schools of 20th-century bourgeois philosophy. Neopositivism emerged and developed as a current that claimed to analyze and resolve the urgent philosophical methodological problems posed by modern science—the role of semiotic and symbolic means of scientific thought, the relationships between the theoretical structure and the empirical foundation of science, and the character and function of the mathematicization and formalization of knowledge. Because its fundamental philosophical principles were unsound, neopositivism did not and could not provide a genuine solution to these problems. Nonetheless, some of the representatives of neopositivism have made specific contributions to contemporary formal logic, semiotics, and the resolution of various issues in the methodology of science.
A modern form of positivism, neopositivism shares positivism’s fundamental principles, rejecting the notion of philosophy’s potential as a form of theoretical cognition that studies essential problems of world understanding and performs special functions in the system of knowledge that are not fulfilled by specialized scientific knowledge. Distinguishing science from philosophy, neopositivism asserts that the only type of knowledge is specialized scientific knowledge. Neopositivism defines the classic problems of philosophy as illegitimate “metaphysics” and refuses even to pose the basic philosophical question of the relationship of matter and consciousness. From these positions, it claims to overcome the “metaphysical” opposition between materialism and idealism. In reality, neopositivism carries on the traditions of subjective idealist empiricism and phenomenalism, which date to G. Berkeley and D. Hume.
In addition, neopositivism represents a specific stage in the evolution of positivism. It reduces the problems of philosophy not to the summation or systematization of specialized scientific knowledge, as was done by 19th-century classical positivism, but to the elaboration of methods of analyzing knowledge. Unlike Hume’s system and 19th-century positivism, which concentrated on psychology in investigating cognitive processes, neopositivism focuses on scientific, philosophical, and everyday language and attempts to analyze knowledge through the possibilities for its expression in language. For positivism, the subject’s feelings and experiences were an “immediate given,” and exceeding the limits of that given was viewed as illegitimate metaphysics. For neopositivism, however, not phenomena of consciousness but forms of language ultimately serve as a similar limit. Metaphysics is viewed not only as a false teaching but also as a teaching that is impossible in principle and devoid of meaning from the standpoint of logical norms of language. Its sources are believed to lie in the disorienting impact of language on thought. All of this makes it possible to speak of neopositivism as a logical linguistic form of positivism, which interprets complex and timely problems of modern logic and linguistics in a spirit of subjectivism and conventionalism. Neopositivism believes that its teaching of philosophy as an analysis of language free from any form of metaphysics represents a “revolution in philosophy” that places it in opposition to all other philosophical currents, both traditional and modern.
The ideas of neopositivism were clearly expressed for the first time by the members of the Vienna circle, from whose works the current of logical positivism evolved. The fundamental ideas of the neopositivist philosophy of science, which were formulated by the Vienna circle, won considerable acclaim among the bourgeois scientific intelligentsia in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Among these ideas were the reduction of philosophy to logical analysis of the language of science; the verification principle, which assumed that each scientifically meaningful statement must lend itself to empirical verification; and the interpretation of logic and mathematics as formal transformations in the language of science. From these positions all classical philosophy was subjected to critical analysis.
These views were the basis for the conceptual and scientific and organizational unity of neopositivism, which developed in the 1930’s and which embraced, in addition to the logical positivists, a number of American representatives of the philosophy of science (C. Morris, P. Bridgman, and Margenau, for example). The L’vov-Warsaw school of logic (A. Tarski and K. Ajdukiewicz), the Uppsala school in Sweden, and the Munich logic group also joined the neopositivist current. However, by the 1950’s it had become clear that the “revolution in philosophy” proclaimed by neopositivism did not justify the hopes placed in it by bourgeois philosophers. Classic problems of philosophy, which neopositivism had promised to surmount and eliminate, recurred in new forms as neopositivism evolved.
With the weakening of the influence of logical positivism, the British analytical current (linguistic analysis) grew stronger. Followers of G. Moore and subsequently of L. Wittgenstein (in his later works), the members of the analytical school shared the overall antimetaphysical bias of neopositivism, as well as its empiricism. However, the analytical philosophers did not support neopositivism’s tendency toward exclusive concentration on the philosophy of science, and they criticized the verification principle. In the 1950’s and 1960’s logical positivism was further criticized by supporters of logical pragmatism in the USA (for example, W. V. Quine). They accused logical positivism of excessively narrowing the tasks of philosophy and reducing it to the logic of science.
As these crisis phenomena developed within neopositivism, the authority of neopositivism in bourgeois philosophy and ideology declined. Departure from vitally important social and ideological problems stemming from the drive to deideologize philosophy, as well as excessive academism and the absolutization of logical and linguistic problems, caused neopositivism to decline in popularity. At the same time, antipositivist currents in bourgeois philosophy, such as existentialism and philosophical anthropology, grew stronger. Criticism from the Marxist point of view, to which Soviet philosophers have made a major contribution, played an important role in debunking neopositivism’s claim to be a modern philosophy of science. Under these conditions, the basic trends in the evolution of neopositivism included attempts to liberalize its position, a rejection of broad programs, and a narrowing of its philosophical problems. From the 1950’s the concept of neopositivism gave way to that of analytic philosophy.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s a new philosophical current has developed. Although it maintains certain links with the overall orientation of neopositivism, it has come out against the neopositivist understanding of the tasks of a methodological analysis of science (T. Kuhn, I. Lakatos, P. Feyerabend, and S. Toulmin, for example). Partisans of the new current specifically reject the absolutization of methods of logical formalization, emphasizing (in contrast to neopositivism) the importance of the study of the history of science for scientific methodology, as well as the cognitive value of metaphysics in the development of science. To some extent, this current has been influenced by the ideas of K. Popper, who has departed from orthodox neopositivism on a number of issues. All of these phenomena are evidence of the profound conceptual crisis in present-day neopositivism, which, in essence, is no longer an integral and consistent philosophical school.
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Hill, T. E. Sovremennye teorii poznaniia. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.) Chapters 13 and 14.
Shvyrev, V. S. Neopozitivizm i problemy empiricheskogo obosnovaniia nauki. Moscow, 1966.
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V. S. SHVYREV